I've been thinking lately about what I'd say to the City of Seattle about Nickelsville, should they care to hear it. What it comes to is this: We have a serious problem in Seattle when it comes to human survival, and it can't be ordered out of existence.
The city has admitted that our shelters are full. This isn't a revelation. Operation Nightwatch, the shelter referral point of last resort, turns people out into the street every night. The 2008 One Night Count of homeless persons found 2,631 people surviving outside of a past-capacity emergency shelter system.
And yet, there is a pretense that the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness is adequately addressing this need, and that the provision of housing and services through the plan is a better alternative than the expansion of emergency shelter. The plan is missing its annual goals by half, and that was during an up economy.
This pretense needs to end. Nickelsville alone has about 100 occupants. People are dying, and the unmet need that exists for survival services cannot be deferred.
The organization that has the expertise and the will to significantly and cost-effectively boost the city's emergency shelter capacity is SHARE/WHEEL. They have operated small self-managed shelters and relatively problem-free tent cities for more than 15 years.
The Mayor needs to put his bully bat away and approach this organization as an ally with resources and expertise. They are not the enemy, and neither are homeless advocates.
As ripples continue to spread through the economy as a result of the financial crisis, the carnage on the streets is likely to grow worse. We need to think about how to address the need that exists now, before things become even worse.